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  • May garden tips & tasks

    GARDEN EVENTS IN MIDDLE TENNESSEE

    May 20: Master Gardeners of Davidson County Urban Gardening Festival, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., Ellington Agricultural Center Demonstration Garden. Free admission. www.mgofdc.org; on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mgofdc.

    June 10: Middle Tennessee Daylily Society show and sale, Ellington Agricultural Center’s Ed Jones Auditorium, 440 Hogan Rd. in Nashville. Sale open at 10 a.m.; show opens to the public at 1 p.m. To learn more about the Middle Tennessee Daylily Society, visit www.middletndaylilysociety.org.

    It’s time to plant those tender herbs and vegetable transplants, such as basil, dill, tomatoes, green peppers, hot peppers, eggplant.

    If tomato transplants are already too tall and leggy, you can plant them on their sides and cover the long stems with soil. The stem tips will turn upward, and the buried stems will sprout roots.

    Sow seeds of bush beans and pole beans, cucumbers, sweet corn, melons, okra, field peas, pumpkin, squash and zucchini. Follow the directions on the seed package for planting depth and spacing. Vegetables grow best in full sun.

    Cut the faded blossoms of peonies. Fertilize the plants lightly in late spring or early summer.

    Remember the basics of watering: morning is best, so plants’ leaves have time to dry before evening. Lawns, perennial borders and annuals like to have 1 – 1½ inches of water per week.

    Many indoor plants enjoy a summer vacation outdoors. Give them a cool, shady spot in the yard, and don’t forget to water them.

    Prune thyme frequently so it will stay full and green in the center.

    Weeding is easiest after a rain. If the ground is too dry and you need to weed, soak the bed first with a hose or sprinkler.

    Whether they’re growing in the ground or in pots on the porch, pinch the tips of geraniums from time to time to encourage them to branch out and to produce more flowers. Geraniums in pots benefit from regular feeding with a water-soluble fertilizer.

    Remember that mulch can be a gardener’s best friend. Pine straw or composted leaves are good alternatives to hardwood mulch.

    Harvest herbs as they reach their peak. Dry small leaves on a screen, hang small bunches of long-stemmed herbs in a warm, dry room out of the sunlight.

    Plants growing outdoors in containers dry out quickly when it’s hot. Check them daily, and water as needed.

    Don’t go near hydrangeas with the pruning shears unless all you’re cutting is dead branches. If the bigleaf hydrangeas look like they’re not going to bloom, it could be that the buds were nipped in a late cold snap, or the plant was pruned too late last year.

    As the flowers of Shasta daisies begin to open and then to fade, keep them clipped off. This prolongs the blooming season of daisies (and most other annuals and perennials), and keeps the plants looking better, as well.

    Watch for aphids on shrubs and perennials. A strong blast of water from a hose will remove many of them, or spray with insecticidal soap.

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Kids learn the joy of gardening

Want to share the joy of gardening with the children in your life? Take a look at these strategies from gardening experts that make time in the garden interesting and fun.

Photo courtesy Nashville Lawn & Garden Show

Photo courtesy Nashville Lawn & Garden Show

Each year, the Nashville Lawn & Garden Show brings thousands of visitors to the Fairgrounds Nashville for an early taste of Spring. This year (March 2 – 5, 2017), the theme is “Gardening For the Future,” and the lecture schedule is heavy on ways to make gardening fun and meaningful for future gardeners – our kids. I asked some of the lecturers to share their ideas.

“Most kids love to get their fingers in the dirt and to dig holes,” gardening or not,” says Todd Breyer, who is one of the show organizers. “They are naturally drawn and fascinated by unusual shapes, flower colors, insects, birds and butterflies in the garden.”

  • Troy Marden, a Middle Tennessee gardener, garden designer, author and garden show host suggests planting “giant” flowers and vegetables: “ ‘Russian Mammoth’ sunflowers that can grow 12 feet tall with blooms more than a foot across. ‘Yardlong’ green beans that will climb a trellis or an arbor, produce bean pods upwards of 3 feet long, and are perfectly edible. ‘Dill’s Atlantic Giant’ pumpkin, the variety that currently holds the world and Canadian records with pumpkins that can weigh nearly a ton, and ‘Carolina Cross’ watermelons that can weigh in excess of 200 pounds!  Make a family friendly competition out of it and see who can grow the biggest produce or the largest flowers.”
  • Set up a butterfly hatchery using an old aquarium or terrarium, Troy suggests. “Harvest black swallowtail caterpillars from fennel or dill growing in the garden or monarch butterfly larva from milkweed, keep them well fed with fresh food using the same host plants you find them on (caterpillars are very picky) and out of any direct sunlight (you don’t want to cook them!) and watch the amazing transformations from caterpillar to chrysalis to adult butterfly before releasing them back into the garden. There are many online resources with very specific instructions for success.”
  • Todd Breyer suggests adding plants with unusual colors or forms, variegation, fuzzy texture, or funny names: Elephant ears, Bat-face Cuphea, Lambs Ears, ‘Bengal Tiger’ Canna, Persian Shield, Red-pod Okra, Bulls Blood Beet, Purple Dragon Carrot, Red Noodle Bean (24” long), Japanese Cucumber (24” long), Gold Potatoes, striped ‘Green Zebra’ Tomatoes, Moonvine and others.
  • Help them see those pollinators – the butterflies, bees and wasps – at work, Todd Breyer suggests. “Talk to them about what they do and why it is important.”
  • Introduce them to plants that move or that are carnivorous! Todd recommends Pitcher Plants and Venus Fly Traps. “Mimosa pudica can be grown from seed, and the leaves will fold up right before your eyes when you brush a finger across them. Shrankia (Sensitive Briar) is a native plant that does the same thing.”
  • Todd advises talking about plants that may be dangerous, “Things like Bed of Nails plat, or honey locust with giant thorns. “Teach that some plants are sources for medicine, or might simply be toxic, so never eat anything without an adult to assist.”
  • Introduce kids to water gardening: “Waterlilies in a pod, tomato plants grown hydroponically,” says Todd. “Or simply start an avocado pit in a glass of water suspended by toothpicks.”
  • Grow a “pizza garden” – all the ingredients you might use for a pizza – basil, onion, oregano, parsley, tomato, eggplant, garlic, etc. “You can even arrange it in the shape of a pizza with each cluster of plants representing a triangular slice,” Todd says.

Any of these ideas would delight a budding gardener. “I will challenge the audience to remember and visualize the awe and excitement we experienced as children to the natural world,” says Sizwe Herring, the founder of the 25-year-old nonprofit, EarthMatters Tennessee, who will present a lecture on permaculture gardening on March 3. “Reuniting this relationship will strengthen the Nashville fair food movement.”

My story about gardening with kids and the Nashville Lawn & Garden Show is coming up in Sunday’s (Feb. 26) Portfolio section of The Tennessean.

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